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Eddie Money looks to recharge his legacy with musical ‘Two Tickets to Paradise’


Eddie Money careened into the room like a one-man parade. The veteran rocker was his own hype man as he pin-balled from desk to desk during a recent visit to CITY Newspaper. In case there was any doubt, he was wearing a hoodie that said "Money, Money, Money" on the back. "Eddie Money, the rock 'n' roll singer is here," he exclaimed. "Who wants two tickets to Betty Ford?"

Money was in town to work on and promote the Rochester Association of Performing Arts production of his autobiographical show, "Two Tickets to Paradise: The Musical," which is making its staged world premiere in Rochester at the Kodak Center, February 14 through February 18.

This new production, written by Money, begs two questions: Why Eddie Money? And why Rochester?

"This is a great community that appreciates the arts," says the show's artistic director, Eric Vaughn Johnson. "We have 49 theater groups in Rochester. With all that we have going, including Eastman, not only do we appreciate music, we love theater and collaborative and creative new work, like the Rochester Fringe Festival. This show is a great collaboration of a bunch of artists to create something brand new."

Vaughn Johnson, musical director Yunjin Audrey Kim, choreographer Terri Filips Vaughan, Money, and a cast of 20 have been woodshedding since last summer. They hope that success in Rochester will give them a chance to put "Two Tickets to Paradise" on the road.

Like other artists of immense popularity a generation ago, Money, who still performs live, wanted to get the story of his life out there: the ups and downs, the good and the bad aspects of his career and his life today. He wants to set the story straight, so to speak. Along with a reality TV show called "Real Money" getting off the ground and this Broadway-style musical, debuting in Rochester of all places, Eddie Money is recharging his legacy.

Money, now 68, has had 23 songs in the Top 100. Hits like "Two Tickets to Paradise," "Baby Hold On," Shakin'," and "Take Me Home Tonight" helped the man sell more than 28 million records and made him a household name, including in Rochester, where a young Eddie would visit his Aunt Mickey and Uncle Jack. Ask Money today and he'll tell you: he just likes it here.

"Rochester's a real rock 'n' roll town," Money says. "It's just a really friendly town. I've always had a lot of fun here since the 70's and 80's. I had a girlfriend up here at one time."

"Two Tickets to Paradise" follows the trajectory of Money's life from his Catholic upbringing in New York City, playing in a rock band in high school, flirting with the idea of becoming a cop, and ditching that idea even when his father was patrolman of the year. Money had a louder calling: music. His bandmates in The Grapes of Wrath were already in Los Angeles poised to strike. They just needed Money.

"They called me and said, 'Eddie you've got to come out here and sing. We're gonna get a record contract' — which they didn't — but I quit the police department, moved out to California and got signed by the legendary promoter Bill Graham."

These were the salad days. Money was jetting to gigs where he was making a thousand dollars a minute performing to sold-out audiences. He did the tube tour hitting all the TV greats like Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson, and David Letterman. It was all sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Money plowed through mountains of money, blow, and groupies. The hits kept coming until one night Money snorted a line of Fentanyl mistaking it for cocaine. It almost killed him. Money damn near cashed it in.

"It put me out like a light," he says. Now clean and sober, he's cut out the excess and seems closely focused on what lies ahead. "I used to love snorting cocaine and fucking a lot," he says. "But that don't work anymore. I'm nine years without a drink."

Stardom, oblivion, and redemption. It's Eddie Money: Phase 2

What got Money's interest going in the direction of the great white way was after seeing "Jersey Boys," the musical biography of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Though it's a good deal different than rock 'n' roll, Money is in a way diversifying his portfolio by doing projects like "Two Tickets to Paradise" and "Real Money." He's staying relevant. But he admits it's tough, and it's personal.

This isn't just a jukebox musical simply regurgitating hit song after song. Money wrote five new songs in the Broadway style which beautifully support the story. And it's his story. Money initially balked at changes director Vaughn Johnson made on "Two Tickets to Paradise." "They re-did the show," Money says. "And I said, 'I don't want to do it now. It isn't what I want. You're changing all the songs around."' He finally relented.

"But then again I don't know how to write a Broadway musical," he says. "It was very personal to me, but I admit it was rather dull and the way these kids turned the script around, it's really exciting."

Vaughn Johnson understands Money's initial frustration.

"It's hard," Vaughan Johnson says. "When you're invested in something, and it's your life and you've written it all down and someone comes in and says, 'Well, why don't you try this?'"

Vaughn Johnson explains that most people read a script like a novel. A director reads it and he has to read between the lines, to picture it in front of him. He has to answer "What's the purpose? Why do I care?"

"Eddie has an amazing story about his life," he says. "It's the star story starting from nothing, overcoming his failures and becoming a huge success."

The admiration is mutual. "Let me tell you the truth," Money says. "These kids from Rochester are very fucking talented. I'm very happy with the progress we've made."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to remove John Campbell's title as producer.